Deliver Us

First things first. I am embarrassed to say that it took me this long because someone of my predilections should have known this long ago but here we are. Even as an ancient Egypt kid (as opposed to dinosaur kids, space kids, horse kids ect), I did not know. But this week has brought me truth:

The word ‘cat’ is very likely Egyptian in origin. One of a handful of words from that ancient language that exists today in modern English (and inspired the word in many, many other languages as well). Golly, those Egyptians were onto something. So cool.

And in celebration of that fact, here is the precious Pinky, making her debut appearance on this site. Give her a warm welcome.


Look, I know probably most of you aren’t all that interested in my socially distanced (or: status quo) journal of bleh introspection and baby self-discoveries but I can’t help it. I am what I am.

🤷‍♂️

I don’t know why it took so long to put it together but I feel like I had a little breakthrough this week. I love personality tests but generally view them as interesting and sometimes helpful rather than definitive. But consider love languages (not personality types per se but in a similar vein). My highest has always been quality time.

And that, finally thinking about that for a sec in the midst of the right now, is it. I often feel unduly “socially needy” in large part because I want to message my friends all the time, about the most random things. Though in person, I think in generally less talkative (generally, okay?).

Chatting with friends virtually, I think, is a kind of stand-in for quality time. It’s a way for me to feel loved by people spending time on me. It doesn’t need to be particularly meaningful conversation, just frequent, sustained contact. That’s how I feel loved. In person, it doesn’t even have to be conversation, just proximity, really.

The past few years, in various ways, I’ve been more or less socially isolated for non-pandemic reasons and so I’ve developed virtual communication as a tool to help me when I’m not near friends physically. Not an earth-shattering discovery but a helpful change in perspective for me.

And by that same token, I shall hereby strive to be more cognizant of the ways in which best to love others, something that I have heretofore been lax in pursuing. Forgive me. I do love you.


This is also Holy Week for the Catholic and Protestant among us and I spent a sec watching clips of Prince of Egypt on YouTube because I could. And let me tell you, I love that movie so much. Here is a moment of Holy Week thoughts for you.

If you’ve seen the movie, you may recall its rousing introductory number, Deliver Us, which describes the whole slavery situation and the throwing Moses into the Nile deal. It is the people crying out to God for deliverance from bondage and into the promised land.

At the very end of the film, Moses has led his people out of Egypt and they are finally free. The closing shot is him coming down from Mt Sinai with two famous tablets in his hands. The music comes to a massive climax and then is suddenly quiet while we hear a lone voice repeat the call: “Deliver us!”

And therein lies Holy Week. The knowledge that, once delivered, God’s people were not yet free. Not truly. But Jesus came to be the deliverance that was sought–not just from slavery but from all darkness.


Now, of course, though Jesus did his whole thing and it is, in his own words, “finished,” there’s still plenty of waiting around for deliverance. Sometimes people talk about the ‘already and not yet’ of it all which is apt. Because though it’s all over and the battle against death has been won, we’re still in many ways waiting for deliverance. It’s a bit like living in an extended denouement of history where the main plot line has finished, we know how it’s all going to turn out, but we’ve still got to tie up loose ends and there are a ton of minor characters that have to play out their own little drama.

But anyway, the promise is that deliverance is coming (already here, and also yet to come, whatever). We can call out, “Deliver us!” and know that we will be delivered. From death and pain, from pandemic and war, from the isolation that comes from imperfect community even in the best of times.

Deliver us, God! And thank you for delivering us.

Bread

First of all, how propitious that this post falls on April 25th, the perfect date according to some. Not too hot and not too cold, all you need is a light jacket. Which, miraculously, is true of the weather here today! Anyway.

This week was Easter! A celebration of the possibilities of becoming new. A recognition that life and love prevail. A feast where the food is sacrifice and the appetite is of the soul. A table where all have been invited to sit and eat without condition and without price.

I don’t want to try and be too theological again, not qualified, but I have some thoughts.

But! Before we get too far into the Easter things, I think a small cat gallery is called for. This week, a curious juxtaposition of cool, calm, and collected (and unusual state for that one) and quirky sleeper.

It should come as no shock to any of you to hear that I am a great lover of baked goods. Rarely met one I didn’t like. And so it might be a bit of a stretch but I’m going to try to knead out a bread-based metaphor here.

We had a sermon a few weeks ago whose central theme was the ‘bread of affliction’–both the difficult things that we face in life and the ways in which we try to feed ourselves unhealthy things. The guest speaker, in my understanding, had two main ideas: take a look at what you’re consuming and make sure it’s a life-giving diet, and when you see people who are eating bread of affliction we ought to have compassion on them.

And I will say again, in the words of a mentor of mine, compassion is to care enough to do something to help.

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Ellen Goodman said,

I have never been especially impressed by the heroics of people who are convinced they are about to change the world. I am more awed by those who struggle to make one small difference after another.

I’m all about changing the world. There are undoubtedly those who can and do. But most of us are not in that number, not in any kind of Bill Gates/Marie Curie/Nelson Mandela kind of way. And so we are faced with the immense task of the routine small things by which the world operates.

And one of the big things about Jesus, if you ask me, is less about the big changes we normally think about–though those too–and more about the small ways we can change our hearts to act in love toward ourselves and others. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I truly believe that we just need to love more and more; the world will change in radical and maybe unexpected ways when love is the driver of action.

People are in different places. By circumstance, certainly, but also by heart. Some people have love to give and other people feel like they’re running a little dry on that front. And that’s the idea of the bread of affliction, I think. We should spread love when and where we can and when we can’t, we should take and eat the bread offered to us.

If you are feeling like things are going well for you, that you eat little of the bread of affliction and you are generally satisfied with life, first of all, congratulations. Second, look around you. Look intently, not a quick glance up from your happiness. Go to those with a harder diet. Be gentle with them, succor them, and be prepared to work hard with them.

If you are feeling like all you ever eat is the bread of affliction, then come to the table that has been prepared for you. Visit the one who has invited you and be filled by that which the world has not offered. The invitation is for all. And when I say all, I actually mean all. There is nothing that you must do or say to be seated at that feast. You yourself, all of yourself, are welcome.

You are expected. Come, the meal is ready.

Divine

Because there is no reason not to start a post with cats. Isn’t she very regal-looking here? And Bubba’s face is visible, so that’s a plus. Photographing black cats is hard.

This week has been decent. The weather has continued to be mostly fine and I’ve gotten in plenty of roof reading. I’ve also encountered a growing amount of lilac which is a major plus as it’s my favorite flower by scent.

There were a few less sunny moments. It did rain quite heavily on Tuesday and, in the midst of the weather, my trusty jacket finally gave up the ghost. The zipper got stuck and then there was…mangling. Poor jacket, I got you in 2010. It had been with me to more than a dozen countries on four continents. May your memory live long. I hardly knew ye.

That was followed by Wednesday, when I was rather suddenly thrust into a new kind of review class (suddenly meaning that I was given 24 hours to prepare). I was to help prepare students for the TOEFL Jr. using as basis a great deal of the material for a class I’ve never taught or even seen the curriculum for. So there was that. I scrambled, fudged, and managed like a champion, if I do say so myself. Which I do. I guess I’ll just be a teensy bit ahead of the curve when I teach that course next term. It was, I imagine, incredibly boring for the students and apparently their practice test scores were pretty low. But I didn’t mind doing it. I’m a test taker, it’s always come easily to me, and the question typology they gave me appealed to my routine-love. We’ll see how I feel about it when I’m actually teaching that course.

Anyway. Other things that happened this week: major religious holiday.

Remembering back to last Easter, and all the weighty history relating thereto, it is a curious thing for me this year. In South Korea, roughly a quarter of the population identifies as Christian (about four fifths of which are Protestant, the rest Catholic). There are churches everywhere, but they represent a relatively small portion of the country. The advanced commercialization of holidays is lessened here as well, so for Easter there is essentially no change to mark it outside of a church service.

Coming from the parades, historical commemorations, and general shenanigans of Dublin 2016, it certainly sets up a contrast. I went to a church like normal, and that was that. There was no lamb, nor eggs, nor rabbits. Probably for the best, actually, since Easter is actually just about the church thing anyway.

In one of my lessons, we were talking about human enhancement and the possibility of human perfectibility. Students, while vocal in support of plastic surgery (this is the plastic surgery capital of the world), were in general agreement that perfection is out of the question. And I tend to agree.

Alexander Pope said it well in 1711: “To err is Humane; to Forgive, Divine.” I’m a mess. Not in any particular sense, so don’t worry (parents). But just generally. I get by, I do fine, but nothing special, really. I lack commitment to anything particularly admirable or world-changing. I do intend to do more and then I mostly don’t because I’m lazy. Every effort of mine at self-improvement (how much more for improvement of something beyond myself) ends up collapsing after a fairly brief span. I’d like to think that on the whole I’m on an upward slope but who’s to say.

I fail, and will continue to do so. But the important thing is keeping the focus on the other part of Pope’s point. To err is what marks us as these weak mortals. It is forgiveness–and the faith that forgiveness will come–that changes everything. And that is the great transgression of Easter: it completes the bridge between the human and the divine. While we were still sinners (still are, still will be), Christ died for us. In his rising, forgiveness is made complete and perfect forever.

Let’s remember that. And let’s strive to mirror that divine act of forgiving.

 

Certainty of Death, Small Chance of Success

This is going to be rather a long post, so brace yourself or just give this one a miss. Personally, I think it’s worth a read. But then again, I am a little biased.

Firstly, the Easter Rising. I don’t want to say too much in the way of background, or even commentary, because it’s a complicated thing and I’m not Irish. But I’ll give you some cursory details and a bit of my personal experience and understanding and leave it at that.

For those of you who didn’t look it up last week, the Easter Rising was a sort of armed rebellion in Ireland, mostly Dublin, pressing for Irish independence from the British Empire in 1916. Americans, myself included, don’t often think of Ireland as a colony, but it totally was. Anyway, the Rising began on Easter Monday with the reading of the Proclamation of the Irish Republic by Patrick Pearse outside the General Post Office. Essentially, there was a great deal of fighting all week with the rebels surrendering on Saturday. The GPO was almost totally destroyed, along with much of the surrounding neighborhood and central Dublin. Almost five hundred people died, over half of which were civilians, including forty children. All the planners of the Rising were executed. The Irish Free State was established in 1922 following three years of a war for independence as a British Dominion under home rule, followed by a further year of civil war. The Republic was declared in 1949 after the passage of a new constitution in 1937 and here we are, in the Republic of Ireland/Poblacht na hÉireann.

Anyway, the commemorations. They were omnipresent and comprehensive. Selected post boxes (normally green) were painted red, the color they were under British rule. Huge posters and sheets were up on buildings denoting specific events, picturing what the building looked like in 1916, with important figures from the history of the Irish independence movement, or simply with the 1916/2016 logo. On Sunday, there was a parade, as per usual, with an extensive military presence. An Uachtarán and Taoiseach (President and Prime Minister) were present, there was a wreath-laying at the GPO, and the Proclamation was read out. I watched this all from the comfort of the home of my pastor, where we had met for brunch and a ‘service’ because our normal church location was within the cordoned off zone of the city center. Afterwards, I went into town to see some of the aftermath and take some pictures.

On Easter Monday, also a state holiday, I went back into town for more 1916 (because I hadn’t gotten enough, apparently). I was lucky enough to be near (within earshot) of the Royal College of Surgeons when they laid the wreath (simultaneously to variety of other sites across the country) and played the national anthem on the bagpipes. If you’re unfamiliar with the Irish national anthem, familiarize yourself. It’s quite a song. Anyway, I wandered around St Stephen’s Green where they had set up a sort of period fair sort of thing. People had stilts and hula hoops, basically. One of my professors, the Wednesday before, referred to the “fetishization of 1916” and he was right on the mark. Ah, there’s so much to share but this post is already so long. If you have specific questions, I encourage you to ask (either me or Google, it’s all good). There was a lot going on, and things will continue for some time, I expect.

I saw a newspaper article on Easter Sunday about the Rising and commemorations and everything. I want to share the beginning of it with you, just to give you a small taste of being Irish in 2016 and how everything fits (or fails to fit) into the history and the present of this Irish Republic. The headline was Our Rebel Hearts.

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“It is fitting, isn’t it, that we can’t agree what it was about, or what it achieved, or what its legacy is, or how best to commemorate it. We could barely agree when to commemorate it. Easter, a movable feast, a date that shifts. Nothing is immutable in Ireland. Everything is up for change.”

I don’t know, like I said, I’m not Irish. But there’s one Irishman’s thoughts. How much is truly up for change, who can say. But a century on from 1916 certainly offers an opportunity to visualize the next century for Ireland and all the promises and challenges therein. And with that, I turn to a discussion of a different set of rebel hearts–the ones for which a certain Jew died approximately 2,000 years ago–and the annual commemoration thereunto appertaining.

You may know that I often really agonize coming up with titles for these posts. I feel like they are such a focal point, and I typically muse them over at length. This week was especially difficult to decide. Candidates included Cuimhnigh, DĂ©an Machnamh, Athshamhlaigh (that’d be Remember, Reflect, Reimagine as the slogan for commemoration events outlined above) and Shepherd! or There’s Another Country (for reasons outlined below). But I went with this memorable Gimli quote and I’ll tell you why.

Basically, life is a terminal condition. And I don’t mean this in a depressing way (for once), but just as an observation of the inevitability of mortality. And, in the end, most of us will have little impact on the greater course of history. It just sort of is what it is. But life is life, too. And, as Gimli reminds us, what are we waiting for?

There’s a grand struggle about living in the world on a variety of levels. On the one hand, you have, like, spiritual warfare. On the other, you have, like, summoning the will to leave the house this week. Somewhere in between, you have the sorts of things that I often talk about in this blog: structural inequality, violence, systemic racism ect, ect, ect. Sometimes I feel like a part of that small group of soldiers standing outside the Black Gate. Quaking in tremendous fear. We, like they, cannot achieve victory through strength of arms. But by participating in the fight, we can participate in the victory. There’s something powerful about yelling and running into the fray. For Frodo. For a cause infinitely greater than ourselves. It’s not a perfect metaphor (no metaphor is–that’s why it’s a metaphor), but I think there’s something to it. For those of you less metaphorically inclined, I’m talking about Easter.

Anyway, just a few final thoughts for this week. I know I said that April was going to be a poetry month. And it will be. But I never said that March wasn’t going to be. So here, on this final day of the month, I have a couple things for you. The first is just a single stanza from a larger work by Cecil Spring Rice, some of you may be familiar with it–the third stanza of The Two Fatherlands well known through the hymn I Vow to Thee, My Country. The first two stanzas talk of patriotism and the sacrifices that the speaker is willing to make for love of country. It’s very nationalistic, but also influenced by the devastation of the Great War. The third stanza, though, takes a different tone altogether, it it’s what I think is relevant this week. So here it is.

And there’s another country, I’ve heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.

Lastly, I’d like to leave you with a full poem. This is a translation from the Spanish by Longfellow of a poem by Lope de Vega called El Buen Pastor or The Good Shepherd. It’s a lovely and delicate sonnet. I find it moving any time, but particularly poignant in these days surrounding Easter. I’ll let it speak for itself and you may think of it as you wish.

Shepherd! who with thine amorous, sylvan song

Hast broken the slumber that encompassed me,

Who mad’st thy crook from the accursed tree,

On which thy powerful arms were stretched so long!

Lead me to mercy’s ever-flowing fountains;

For thou my shepherd, guard, and guide shalt be;

I will obey thy voice, and wait to see

Thy feet all beautiful upon the mountains.

Hear, Shepherd! thou who for thy flock art dying,

Oh, wash away these scarlet sins, for thou

Rejoicest at the contrite sinner’s vow.

Oh, wait! to thee my weary soul is crying,

Wait for me! Yet why ask it, when I see,

With feet nailed to the cross, thou’rt waiting still for me!